Should you chill red wines? That depends on the wine, of course. Many of us regularly drink our white wines too cold and our red wines too warm, forgetting that, just as in cooking, temperature is a key ingredient of flavour. Lighter red wines made from the Cabernet Franc, Gamay and Pinot Noir grape benefit greatly from being slightly chilled. When served at room temperature they tend to be unfocused and fuzzy. But often all they need is a slight reduction in temperature to take on a precise and fine-edged shape. So don’t be afraid to ask for an ice bucket. The sommelier will understand even though other diners may cast pitying looks, implying that you don’t understood the difference between red and white.
The reason that lighter reds prefer cooler temperatures is that they lack the tannic weight of Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah based wines. Tannins provide wine with body and structure, creating a frame on which the fruit is hung. On the palate, they add more astringent, bitter notes to the wine’s flavour, adding an important contrast to the sweetly ripe fruit. But since acidity reinforces bitterness, such wines are low in acidity by design. Too much of it, and the wines would taste harsh. By contrast, lighter reds lacking in tannin compensate by being higher in acidity, which accentuates the bright fruit flavours and lends the wines a characteristic freshness. These higher levels of acidity give the wines edges they would otherwise be lacking. But this precision goes missing if the wine is too warm. Just as leaving your coffee to go cold will bring out its bitterness, so slightly chilling these reds will bring out a balancing acidity and bitter note that restores their shape and structure.
Good examples are the red wines from the Loire made from Cabernet Franc. These dark, purplish wines have a heady perfume of violets and tea. Their steely characters combine precise flavours of raspberry and sour cherry with earthy notes of beetroot and smoked ham. As a benchmark Bourgueil, try the 2008 Trinch! from Catherine and Pierre Breton. A meatier example is the substantial 2005 Les Racines from Frédéric Mabileau. Both of these natural wine-makers produce a range of wines reflecting their subtly differing terroirs. Nearby, you will find the Chinon wines of Charles Joguet. His silky-textured Les Petites Roches combines elegant cherry fruit with the more austere notes of…